Quartz countertops have become an increasingly popular option for kitchen and bathroom remodels in recent years. Made from ground quartz crystals combined with resins and pigments, quartz offers an attractive, low-maintenance, and durable surface. However, some concerns have been raised over the safety of quartz countertops, so it is important to understand the health and safety issues before installing them in your home. This article provides a comprehensive look at the safety of quartz countertops.
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a mineral found abundantly in nature. It is composed of silicon and oxygen atoms and is the second most common mineral found in the earth’s continental crust, after feldspar. Natural quartz is colorless and transparent or white. Manufactured quartz used in countertops consists of about 90-95% ground quartz crystals combined with polyester resins and pigments. This combination creates a non-porous, hard, and durable surface resistant to scratches, stains, and heat.
Is Quartz Countertop Toxic?
One of the main concerns around quartz countertop safety stems from its resin binders which can contain chemicals like formaldehyde, bisphenol A (BPA), and isocyanates. However, the amount of chemicals in quartz is very low, usually less than 0.1% by weight. The Quartz Institute notes that formaldehyde emissions meet the most stringent standards worldwide. The resins essentially become inert once cured, encapsulating any chemical additives and preventing off-gassing.
While all quartz may contain trace levels of chemicals, the amounts are well below safety limits. Reputable quartz brands also voluntarily meet certification standards that limit toxin levels even further. Overall, quartz countertops are considered non-toxic and safe for use in the home.
Does Quartz Countertop Contain Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in some rock formations which can pose a health risk through inhalation. There has been some concern that quartz countertops made from natural stone may release radon gas. However, nearly all quartz countertops today are made from engineered quartz, not natural quartz slabs. The manufacturing process excludes any stones with concentrated radon. Testing confirms radon levels are negligible in engineered quartz.
The Healthy Building Network performed radon tests on a range of engineered quartz products from leading brands and found radon levels were virtually undetectable – no higher than normal background levels. Based on current evidence, radon exposure from quartz countertops is not a health concern.
Does Quartz Countertop Contain Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was often used in building materials for its strength and fire resistance. However, asbestos is a known carcinogen and inhalation of its microscopic fibers can cause lung diseases including cancer. All uses of asbestos in the US are now highly regulated. Since quartz countertops are made from engineered quartz rather than natural stone, asbestos contamination is not a concern. Manufacturers confirm their products do not contain asbestos. Asbestos is not an ingredient in any quartz countertop products.
Can Quartz Countertops Cause Cancer?
There is no evidence that quartz countertops cause cancer. The very low levels of chemicals like formaldehyde and acrylic monomers in quartz are not considered a cancer risk. These trace additives become inert during manufacturing. Quartz has also been cleared of radon and asbestos concerns. While any material in dust form can be an irritant if inhaled, quartz countertops do not release dangerous levels of silica dust with normal use. All evidence indicates quartz is a non-toxic and safe material in regard to cancer risk.
Do Quartz Emit Dangerous VOCs?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are carbon-containing chemicals that can off-gas from certain solids and liquids. Exposure to high concentrations of VOCs can cause health issues ranging from headaches to damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.
Freshly manufactured quartz may initially outgas low levels of VOCs from its resin binders. However, studies show these emissions rapidly decrease to undetectable levels within the first weeks after production. Quartz manufacturers also take steps to minimize VOCs, like using greener vinyl ester resins and curing quartz slabs prior to shipment. By the time quartz countertops are installed in homes, VOC emissions are negligible.
Is It Safe for Kids?
Quartz countertops present no known hazards for kids and are commonly installed in family homes. Their smooth non-porous surfaces do not support mold growth or bacteria that could pose a health risk. Quartz lacks radon or other chemical emissions that could impact children’s health. The hard surface does not harbor allergens like animal dander.
The main safety considerations with quartz around children are related to injury prevention. Sharp corners and edges should be rounded. Supervision is still required around any hard kitchen/bath surface to avoid falls and head bumps. Overall, quartz itself produces no emissions or hazards that uniquely impact kids and is considered safe, though appropriate parental supervision is always advised around any hard surfaces.
Is Quartz Dust Harmful?
Cutting and fabricating quartz does release some dust containing fine particulates of quartz and silica. Silica dust is known to cause lung disease with repeated exposures. However, studies of quartz countertop workers have found very low silica dust levels that do not exceed occupational exposure limits. Consumer exposure during countertop installation is even less. Acute silicosis is extremely unlikely.
Once installed, quartz countertops do not release harmful silica dust with routine use. Only aggressive operations like grinding or polishing should be avoided without proper ventilation. Overall, while some dust is released during fabrication, quartz does not pose a serious silica dust hazard for consumers under normal conditions. Proper practices should always be used by professional fabricators.
Is It Prone to Cracks and Fissures?
Micro-cracks and fissures in countertops can trap bacteria, moisture, and grime. However, quartz is not prone to extensive cracking or fissures due to its durability and non-porous nature. Small hairline cracks may form after years of heavy usage. Slight seam gaps between slabs are also possible although less likely with today’s advanced fabrication.
Overall, quartz is highly resistant to cracks and keeps surfaces hygienic. Any minor flaws that eventually form after prolonged use pose only a small hygiene issue easily remedied with diligent cleaning. Cracks and crevices in quartz will be shallow and rarely impact safety or sanitation.
Does Quartz Harbor More Germs Than Other Countertops?
Quartz does not inherently harbor more germs than other countertop materials. In fact, its non-porous, stain-resistant surface makes it less likely to trap bacteria compared to more porous natural stone and grouted tile. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the microbes present on countertops are most often deposited by people through direct contact. Thorough cleaning and disinfection removes over 99% of microbes.
Quartz’s non-porous surface makes it very easy to sanitize compared to more absorbent materials. With routine cleaning, quartz does not allow excessive bacterial growth. Studies show quartz harbors about the same level of bacteria as other common surface materials when cleaned regularly. For optimal hygiene, frequent disinfection of any countertop surface is recommended.
How to Keep Quartz Countertops Safe
- Select low-VOC quartz from reputable brands that follow voluntary safety standards.
- Ensure proper ventilation during fabrication and installation to minimize dust.
- Round any sharp corners and edges for child safety.
- Clean surfaces frequently and disinfect with bleach solution or other disinfectant.
- Avoid exposing quartz to strong chemicals like paint removers or oven cleaners.
- Use trivets or hot pads under hot pans to prevent thermal shock.
- Follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning and care.
- Re-seal quartz every 1-2 years with a penetrating sealer.
- Handle cracks or damage promptly to prevent hygiene issues.
The Bottom Line
Scientific analysis of quartz confirms that emissions of chemicals, radon, VOCs, and silica dust are all well within accepted safety limits. Leading quartz brands voluntarily meet strict standards to minimize toxins. While no material is 100% inert, quartz does not pose any alarming health risks for consumers under normal conditions of use. Simple precautions like ventilation during fabrication and regular disinfection provide added safety. For homeowners seeking an attractive, durable, and low-maintenance countertop, quartz remains a popular and safe option. With proper selection, care, and cleaning, quartz countertops present only minimal risks and can be enjoyed safely within any home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some common questions related to the safety of quartz countertops:
Does engineered quartz contain silica?
Yes, engineered quartz contains silica since it is made from approximately 90% ground quartz crystals. However, it does not release significant levels of silica dust during routine use after installation. The minimal silica dust released during fabrication is controlled and does not exceed safe limits.
Should I seal my quartz countertop?
Sealing is not required for quartz but is recommended by many manufacturers to enhance stain resistance and ease cleaning. Re-apply a penetrating sealer every 1-2 years. Make sure cleaners and disinfectants used are compatible with the sealer.
Can quartz crack easily?
No, quartz countertops are highly resistant to cracks due to their durability. Hairline cracks may form after many years of heavy usage. Damage from excessive heat or force needs to be avoided. Most cracks in quartz are minor surface issues, not safety hazards.
Is it safe for food prep?
Yes, quartz is considered food-safe and non-toxic making it safe for food prep when kept clean. Its non-porous surface inhibits bacterial growth. Make sure to thoroughly sanitize surfaces frequently. Avoid cutting directly on the countertop.
Does quartz require special cleaning methods?
No special cleaning is required beyond typical washing with mild soap and water. Disinfecting on a regular basis is recommended. Avoid abrasive pads and strong chemicals that can damage the surface. Follow the manufacturer’s care guidelines.
How durable and scratch-resistant is quartz?
Quartz is very durable and resistant to scratches, cracks, chips, and heat damage. However, the material can be damaged by excessive force or misuse. Proper care will maintain its attractive appearance for many years.
Is engineered quartz cheaper than natural stone?
Yes, on average, engineered quartz costs $40-100 per square foot installed compared to $80-250 per square foot for natural stone like granite or marble. The manufacturing process makes quartz more affordable.
Does quartz emit radioactive particles that cause cancer?
No. Quartz countertops do not cause cancer or emit dangerous radiation. They may contain trace levels of radon far below hazardous limits. Multiple tests confirm radon in quartz poses no health risks.
How long does off-gassing of VOCs last after install?
Minimal off-gassing diminishes rapidly within the first days and weeks after quartz fabrication. VOCs decrease to insignificant levels as the resins fully cure. Letting new countertops air out after install accelerates dissipation.
Based on all available evidence, quartz countertops present no alarming health or safety hazards. Potential issues like chemical additives, radon, VOCs, and silica dust have been extensively evaluated and found to be well within accepted safety limits for consumers. Simple precautions like maintaining cleanliness and avoiding damage will ensure safe enjoyment of quartz surfaces for many years. For homeowners seeking an attractive, durable, and non-porous countertop material, quartz remains a sound choice that can be used safely in kitchens and bathrooms.